Is attending university a high-risk activity?
Not according to the recently published Risk Management Report released by the University of Calgary Risk Management Safety Services. The report outlines the success of the University's RMSS Division, which is currently the only division of its kind in any North American academic institution.
"The University must manage its risks to maintain an attractive, safe and secure environment for its current and future community," said Vice-president Finance and Services Dr. Keith Winter in the report. "The philosophy, dedication, structure and operations [of RMSS] promote and deliver positive results that place the U of C at the forefront of Risk Management."
Collectively, the departments of Risk Management and Operations, Safety Services and Campus Security formed the RMSS division 1996. Previously the University had viewed Risk Management as an insurance policy but since its inception the division has outgrown this role. RMSS has developed programs to educate the campus population, committees to identify and minimize the risks and to ensure informed consent of those people using the university and its facilities.
"All we were doing was reacting to problems legally," said Director of RMSS, Jennifer Yip-Choy. "Risk management is about minimizing risks, and putting measures into place to ensure people can enjoy our campus safely."
The Risk Management report highlights the preventative actions taken to mitigate the kinds of risks faced by the university population, including safety audits for the numerous campus labs.
The report outlines the discovery during one such audit of picric acid, a highly explosive chemical that gathers potency as it dries and ages. Safety Services Manager Shelley Dixon explained that an intensive process conducted by Safety Services, Emergency Services and a Bomb Squad was required to remove the chemical and detonate it off campus.
International travel became a priority for RMSS after three archaeologists from the university were held hostage in the Guatemalan jungle in 1997, prompting the university to develop the International Risk Management Program.
The most visible aspects of the RMSS Division are Campus Security, Safewalk, the Campus Card Program and waivers students sign to participate in recreational activities. But RMSS impacts students in other, less visible ways.
"It affects students because we say no to certain things" said Yip-Choy.
During the 2000/01 school year, RMSS cancelled a rave the Students' Union had scheduled in the MacEwan Hall Ballroom, due to concerns that all night dance parties were closely linked with drug usage and would potentially attract a group of people from outside the primary population of the U of C.
"Problems on campus are usually caused by the external population," said Yip-Choy. "Students should feel that [the RMSS] is responsive to their personal safety needs."
"Being on the cutting edge requires the exact balance of disciplines, strategic positioning and a concentrated focus on a new and brighter horizon," said Yip-Choy in the report.